The Yomiuri Shimbun
March 19, 2014
KYOTO—A wooden sculpture portraying the head of Rankei Doryu (1213-1278) was recently found inside a seated statue of the same man. Rankei Doryu was a Buddhist priest who came to Japan from Southern Song dynasty China in 1246 and later became the chief priest of Kenninji temple, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.
It is considered very likely that the wooden head is the only remaining sculpture dating back to the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Sculptures of that period are believed to have been lost due to many fires, including those of the late 15th-century Onin War.
The wooden head sculpture of Rankei Doryu was discovered inside the larger statue, which was created in 1676 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death. Seiraiin temple, part of Kenninji temple in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, currently holds both the older sculpture and the larger statue, which measures 68.2 centimeters in height.
The Kenninji temple was founded in 1202 by Buddhist priest Yosai (1141-1215), who spread the teachings of the Rinzai school of Buddhism. Rankei Doryu became a chief priest at Kenninji temple after he founded the Kenchoji temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Ryusuke Asami, a researcher with the Tokyo National Museum, discovered the wooden sculpted head inside the larger statue.
Because the head has sunken cheeks, a sharp jawline and lips upturned at the corners, similar to features seen in the larger statue and in a portrait drawn during the priest’s life, Asami inferred that the wooden sculpture was the head of a sculpture of the priest created some time during the Kamakura period.